When I first started teaching yoga, I was awed by all these other teachers that knew precisely how poses should look. They were confident when they adjusted me verbally and physically. They knew exactly what I was doing “wrong” and how to fix it.
Turns out, they were all full of shit 💩 .
I took my first anatomy training because I wanted to be like those teachers. But, by the time I completed my second training, I learned that the human body is much more complicated, beautiful and interesting than I realized and can’t be bound to or ruled by the cueing we’re used to in yoga. There is no such thing as universally “good” or “safe” cueing.
So how does this affect our yoga practice?
Well to begin with, we can stop trying the best “alignment-based” yoga teacher or studio. It’s just nonsense. Instead, we can learn to explore movement be connected to our own individual experiences. Notice what muscles you feel “turning on” and which you feel relaxing or stretching. Notice if the movement feels comfortable, uncomfortable or painful and watch/listen how it affects your breathing and facial expressions.
We also have permission to play a lot more in our poses and practices. Take bridge pose for example. This has become one of my absolute favorite poses to play in because there are so many possibilities. For example, below, I’ve listed pairs of opposite actions. Get into bridge pose (right now if you can) and start playing by picking one thing from at least one pair and then adding on actions from another pair and another and so on. It’s a choose-your-own-adventure for bridge pose.
Walking your feet as close to your body as you can Walking your feet as far from your body as you can
Lifting up your toes (or shifting your weight towards the heels) Lifting up your heels (or shifting the weight towards your toes)
Raising your hips as high as you can Keeping your hips lower to the ground
Lifting a leg of the ground (you can decide to keep it still, move it around, keep it low or lift high, etc.). Keeping both feet firm on the ground
Pretending your pressing your feet down and forward Pretending your dragging your feet back towards your shoulders
Squeezing a block between the thighs/Squeezing the thighs together Pressing your legs out into a resistance band or strap/Spreading your knees apart
Each of these actions is going to give you a slightly different experience. That means that this one pose can have thousands of different effects on a body depending on how it is being performed and what is going on in your particular body. Try this with other poses and see what happens.
One more thing we can do is start doing smaller movements that introduce load in a very gradual way. So taking the wrists for example – we can start by circling the wrists (palms open facing towards you, palms open facing away, making a fist fingers towards you, making a fist fingers away). Then we can do the same thing on hands and knees. We can move the position of our hands all around and then make circles with our body around that position. This is a great way to get feedback to understand where we experience pain (where it might be unsafe) and where we experience intense stretch (where things are tight). As an added effect, adding a gradual load encourages weak places to start responding by building a little bit of strength at time.
When I started practicing this way, I became so much more in tune with my body and my capabilities. When I started teaching this way, my client retention and word-of-mouth referrals went up significantly. My students felt I was really taking the time to get to know them, and respond to their needs. They also started feeling a deeper connection to how their body works.
Try it out, and let me know what this approach does for your practice.